Plot Outlining: Mapping the Journey

Writers have gotten a reputation of being a roguish band of disorganized dreamers who relish chaos, but that doesn’t really tell the whole story. The ability to organize your plot and sort through your ideas is an easy way to make the entire writing process develop better. Outlining is the best method I have found to make organizing my plot points a faster process. I am of the opinion that writing is difficult enough in itself so I will attempt anything that I can to make the creative process smoother.

Writing is chaotic enough!! Save you sanity and make it easier on yourself

Writing is chaotic enough!! Save you sanity and make it easier on yourself

The moment I get an idea for a story I take out a sheet of paper and plot out a potential plotline. The outline I use is fairly general. I use the headings from the plot triangle we all learned about in school (Exposition, Rising Action, Climax etc.) and then I fill in the events for every section.


This is an example of the type of outline I like to use (note: this is a vague outline I drew up a few years ago before I started a rough draft for a 10 minute play):

I. Exposition
1. Introduce Daughter (protagonist) and Mother (antagonist)
a. Introduce conflict between Daughter and Mother- Mother wants Daughter to get married to jerk.
b. Mother is tight lipped and rigid, Daughter is restless and wants to rebel.
2. Daughter plans to run away
a. Describe what problems she has with Mother/Fiancé.

II. Rising Action
1. Mother wants Daughter to stay and avoid scandal
a. Further development of conflict between Mother and Daughter.
2. Introduce Fiancé.
a. Fiancé is smug and entitled.
b. Daughter insults Fiancé.

III. Climax
1. Fiancé slaps Daughter
a. Daughter stands up to Fiancé.
b. Fiancé exits.

IV. Falling Action
1. Mother shifts from antagonist to protagonist
a. Helps Daughter leave.
b. Starts understanding.
2. Daughter Leaves.

V. Resolution
1. Re-enter Fiancé
a. Fiancé threatens Mother.
b. Mother stands up to Fiancé.

This outline wasn’t set in stone by any means. As I created the characters and came to a better understanding of their mental situations and goals the story shifted but this outline really helped me to organize my ideas and to envision how my story was going to play out. If when I was writing the rough draft I found out that something from my outline didn’t work I’d change it, but the outline gave me a simple and streamlined way to sort through my ideas.

Outlining for me is a simple way to navigate the chaotic world of writing

Outlining for me is a simple way to navigate the chaotic world of writing

It’s like mapping out your route for a road trip. You start out with what you think is the best road to reach your intended destination and you start down that way, but while you’re on the way you find out that a section of the highway is covered in potholes so you change your planned and take a smoother road. That’s the mindset I have when I write my pre-rough draft outline. There may be some bumps in the road as I make my way towards the end, but at least I have an idea of where I’m going.

Exercise of the Day

Exercise of the Day

Exercise of the Day: The Lost Senses
Imagine that you woke up one morning and could not hear or speak. Describe the sensations you might feel as you try to figure out what happened to you, why it happened and how to deal with it. How would you learn to communicate with the world without using your ears or your voice? This exercise allows you to explore the world of body language. Imagine what types of facial and body movements you would use to communicate with the world.

Have fun with this one and I’ll see you next time!!!



Filed under Books, Characters, Creative, Creative writing, Dialogue, Ideas, Imagination, Literature, Novel Writing, Novels, Plot, Screenwriting, Uncategorized, Writing

12 responses to “Plot Outlining: Mapping the Journey

  1. Excellent. I’m a strong advocate of planning as much as possible pre-drafting.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. hawaygeordie

    Me too, Daniel. How else can you manage plots and sub plots, characters, locations, items used etc. Mind you, it’s still just a framework with lots of room to explore as you go along.

    Ref Exercise of the Day: The Lost Senses.
    I would go one step further. Imagine that you were born not being able to see or hear. You would have the senses of touch, taste and smell. How would you think? How would you communicate? Would you develop a system of taps on someone’s hand which they in turn could reply to you? There’s probably a book there, I think.


    • That sort of reminds me of Dalton Trumbo’s Johnny Got his Gun. The main character wakes up after being blown up in…WWI I think and he cannot speak, hear, or see. After a long journey he communicates by tapping his head against his pillow in Morse Code. I need to go read that again. Thanks for the reminder!!! I wonder how I would cope with something like that though…especially because I don’t know Morse Code 🙂


  3. Thank you for the advice and for acting to follow my blog. As I have written the first volume of the book series I’ve planned, I’m going to go back and see if I had already followed your outline even though I didn’t have one at the time. It will help with other volumes in the series. Thank you again.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I also am a strong believer in outlining, as long as you leave the door open to adjust when needed. Outlining helps you work out things in advance, and can get you through your first draft quicker!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. For the few books I have written I have accompanying notebooks with scene by scene plot breakdowns.
    Many I never use ( Leaving the door open is indeed the key) but they are great fun to refer back to.
    Sometimes I use mental mapping while out jogging – a great time to liberate all the junk that floats around – and now and then I have been able to run through the door straight to the computer and write the scene and dialogue out almost verbatim as it played out during my run. Overdosing on serotonin, perhaps? lol.

    Sadly, even this is not always a guarantee as I found out with the book am rewriting because of an unresolved plot issue that went unnoticed for the better part of a year.
    Even my publisher missed it!


    • I have heard that a lot of writers like to sort through their plots while out running. Unfortunately that approach never worked out for me because when I run all of my metal power is focused on breathing. LOL!!! Even if I never use the outlines I create, it really gives me a feeling of relief that when my story seems to be going out of control that I can always refer back to the outline.


  6. stephanie-l-dockery

    Reblogged this on The Night Owl's Guide to Reading and commented:
    Good advice! I HATE outlining… I prefer to be completely open to my muse, but having a guideline for the story has proven to be a huge benefit.

    Liked by 1 person

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